Portsmouth City Council switched gears Monday night and chose to turn from working on the budget presented to them by current Mayor Jane Murray, and instead began cutting on a budget presented by former Mayor James Kalb in November. Third Ward Councilman Nick Basham suggested going back to the November budget, since Murrays budget included furloughs which had not been authorized by the citys various unions. Haas, Sixth Ward Councilman Rich Noel, Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones and Portsmouth Auditor Trent Williams, and Murray, had met with union reps from the Firefighters Union, and those employees had expressed they would be willing to forego a scheduled 3 percent pay increase with a couple of stipulations. The meeting was, I think, helpful, because it laid out to Council what the issues are with the union members, and what theyre looking for in a budget, Haas said. The union appeared to be extremely open to working with the city to help us out of the financial situation that we are in. I dont think there was any hesitation. However, there were a couple of things that were of concern to the union members that was expressed by their representative, Tony Hamilton, at the meeting. Haas said to boil it down, the employees are willing to forego the raise if there were no new positions created within the city, and that no raises would be given to other employees in other departments. Their position was, why should we make concessions, if you are going to turn around (and) give it to someone else, Haas said. What I took away from the meeting on Friday and I met today with the AFSCME officials they took about the same position. Theyre willing to make concessions under a Memorandum of Understanding with respect to their wages, and a freeze, no raise this year. But they also were concerned that no new positions be created and no raises be given to other city employees. That became the first point of contention on the evening. Haas said he first noticed substantial increases in the salaries in the Engineering Department. Haas said in the Engineering Department, Design and Construction Division, the position of Director of Public Utilities and Engineering (Peck) was budgeted in 2009 at $38,829. The proposed 2010 figure is $59,000. As I explained to them Friday, this is the position for Mr. Peck, and currently he is paid as Acting Director of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, when, in fact, his duties include administering all of the public utilities Water, Wastewater and Engineering. So, in actuality, this position at $38,000 budgeted for 2009 was the Assistant Director position, which I propose to eliminate, and collapse all of those into one new position of Director of Public Utilities and Engineering at $59,000, Murray said. Currently, hes being paid at the rate of Acting Director of Sanitary Sewers. That position would be eliminated in my budget. Murray said she does not believe there is a need for director of the Treatment Plant, but she believes the city needs chief operator. With all due respect, Madam Mayor, the way this is viewed by myself and others is that where we had three individuals, one running water, one running wastewater, and one running the Service Department, in those departments, now it looks like were going to have four, Haas said. Weve got four people doing the jobs of what was three. Im sorry, Mr. Haas. I disagree with you in that youre not aware of the duties and functions that are necessary to oversee and administer all the work that needs to be done in those three different departments, Murray responded. There wasnt someone sufficient to handle that before. Now I have that in Mr. Peck. It can be combined in the Engineering office. It can be combined in the sewer office. I dont really care where its combined to be quite honest. But this was not the same position. This was an Assistant Director position at $38,000 in (20)09. And Im having this one position be over all three departments. After several terse conversations between Murray and Haas and Basham, and questions about possible cuts from the Executive department, Murray picked up her things and left the meeting. That was at 7:38 p.m. After that, Council members rolled up their sleeves and began cutting line by line from the departments where the department heads were present to question. Council began the slow process of going through the budgets of each department and making line by line cuts. Council worked on the executive branch, the legislative branch, the Solicitors office and the Auditors office and several smaller departments. At the end of the night, two departments had shown the 10 percent reductions requested by Murray in her original proposed budget her office, and the Portsmouth Fire Department budget presented to Council by Fire Chief Bill Raison at the end of the meeting. During the meeting, Portsmouth Police Captain Robert Ware announced that the rank and file of the FOP was, at that time, taking out a ballot box to vote as to what they would do. City employees Tuesday morning were quick to say they were willing to forego the scheduled raises, but wanted the assurance of no new positions and no raises. Council decided to meet again Monday, April 5 at 6 p.m. to hopefully continue to go over the various budgets, and also possibly have agreements with the unions.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232 or email@example.com